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Thursday, 31 October 1974
Page: 2185

Senator MARTIN - My question is directed to the Minister for Agriculture and I refer to statements made by him and by the Minister for Minerals and Energy the day before yesterday on the development of the phosphate deposits in

Queensland. I would like to ask the Minister: Has a cost-benefit analysis been made of the development of the deposits at Lady Jane, Lady Annie and Duchess? Does this cost-benefit analysis include the cost of transportation? Will the cost-benefit analysis be made available? Can he tell us whether he has an estimate for the price of phosphate from these sources so that some comparison can be made with the potential price of phosphate on overseas markets next year? Will there actually be a price benefit for the Australian farmer or is it just a case of the price of overseas phosphate having increased to the point where it has now become economic to develop the deposits we have known about in Queensland for some time? On the subject of the cost of transport, I notice -

The PRESIDENT - Please ask your question.

Senator MARTIN - They are all relevant to the same point, Mr President. Is it a fact that the Queensland Government has yet to finish the construction of some 70 kilometres of rail to transport this phosphate and that in the meantime it will be transported by road? In that case, does the Government have any intention of making improvements to the Flinders Highway to make it an all-weather road, passable for most of the year, which it is not at present?

Senator WRIEDT - Firstly, the development of the deposits is the responsibility of a private company, not the Federal Government or the State Government. Broken Hill South Ltd, the company concerned, has of course made its own assessment as to the economics of quarrying or mining those deposits. I understand that initially it was not considered by the company to be economic to mine them, in view of the low phosphate content in the ore, in relation to world prices for phosphate rock which have obtained in recent years. Undoubtedly the very rapid escalation of the price of phosphate rock on the world market has now made a difference to the return factor which Broken Hill South Ltd can expect from its investment. I have no doubt that the company has made a very detailed cost analysis of the development of those deposits and the eventual manufacture of fertiliser.

As to the matter of the rail link to the coast, I am not sure what the position is. Even if the Queensland Government has not completed it I assume that Broken Hill South Ltd, in negotiation with the Queensland Government and possibly with our own Federal Government, is constructing that rail link. Until such time as it is ready, presumably road transport will be necessary. I cannot give any answer on that. If my colleague the Federal Minister for Transport, Mr Jones, can provide some further information, I will obtain it for the honourable senator.

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